How the QCE ATAR works: Understanding Queensland's Year 12 ATAR system

Let’s break down the Queensland Certificate of Education and what it entails, so you (whether you are a student, parent, or tutor) are ready for the rollercoaster ride that is Year 12.

3 months ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics

The QCE System: What you need to know

For most Year 11s and 12s, their parents and tutors, the QCE is something to await with apprehension and dread. Not to mention the fact that the QLD system has recently undergone a bit of a “facelift” in 2020, so there are some important changes you need to know.

Let’s break down the Queensland Certificate of Education and what it entails, so you (whether you are a student, parent, or tutor) are ready for the rollercoaster ride that is Year 12.

So, what is the QCE?

The QCE (or Queensland Certificate of Education) is the certification awarded to Year 12s following their completion of their senior studies – basically a high school diploma. The certification is granted to students given the successful completion of four core units in 5 general subjects.

Am I eligible for the QCE?

In order to receive your QCE at the end of Year 12, you must satisfy a couple of requirements. For each general subject, there are 4 units (which correspond to 4 QCE credits).

Units 1 and 2 are completed in Year 11 and are formative (ie. scores do not contribute to your final ATAR). Units 3 and 4 are completed in Year 12 and are summative (they do contribute to your ATAR).

Students must have a minimum of 20 credits to receive a QCE, but they can attain up to 28 credits. Most Queensland students will graduate with 24 QCE credits (4 units in 6 general subjects).

What subjects do I need for my QCE/ATAR?

In the QCE system, subjects are split up into 2 categories, general and applied

  • Applied subjects can count towards QCE but only one applied subject can be used in calculation of ATAR
  • General subjects can count towards both QCE and ATAR calculation

As mentioned above, you need a minimum of 20 credits, meaning 5 general subjects, or 4 general subjects and 1 applied subject. Alternatively, some students opt to undertake a diploma or certificate during Year 11 and 12, such as the Diploma of Business, which can also contribute towards their QCE/ATAR certification.

All students must successfully complete an English subject to receive their QCE and ATAR.

For the remaining 5 or 6 subjects you select for your senior studies, there is a broad range of options available, including Maths, Science, Commerce, Arts, Humanities, Languages and more.

If you are aiming to get into a particular university course, such as Medicine, it’s crucial that you look into any subject prerequisites each university requires, as this can affect what courses you will be eligible for.

What are the assessments like?

Each subject has a unique assessment style and structure, but all subjects will have two components: internal and external assessment.

Internal assessments refer to any exams/assignments that are formulated and assessed by individual schools, which are then sent off to the QCAA (QLD’s education authority) for external confirmation. For most subjects, internal assessments comprise 75% of the total subject weighting (excluding Maths and Science subjects which are 50%).

External assessments are the big bad final exams that everyone stresses about at the end of the year. These exams are written and marked by the QCAA themselves, and usually amount to 25% of a subject’s total grade (excluding Maths and Science again, which are 50%). These invigilated exams are held in a 4-week exam period during the end of the school year. Each subject exam across the state is held at the same time so you are all in it together (couldn’t resist the high school musical reference).

How does the ATAR fit into this?

Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (or ATAR as it is more commonly known), is awarded to students who satisfy the eligibility criteria. It is provided to Year 12 graduates in conjunction with their QCE and is important for university entry. Whilst QCE is under the jurisdiction of the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA), ATAR is calculated by the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC).

ATAR is a rank - essentially meaning that it gives you a percentile of how you have ranked compared to all of the students in the state. Students who receive a 99.95 ATAR are in the top 0.05% of the state (around 30 people), whereas students with a 70 ATAR are in the top 30%.

How is the ATAR calculated?

The ATAR calculation is based off raw exam scores, which are then weighted to provide a cumulative score, which is then ranked accordingly. Raw exam scores are released the same day that ATARs are released. They are then combined with the internal assessment score to give an overall raw subject score out of 50.

The ATAR calculation considers 5 of the 6 general subjects that most students partake in - and the lowest subject is not included at all (known as a 'grace subject'). However, it is important to note that the grace subject is based on the lowest weighted score, not the lowest raw score. This is a common misconception amongst many students, and the reason why you shouldn’t just decide that a certain subject will be your grace subject, because this may well change with scaling factored in!

What is scaling?

Raw subject scores are scaled based on overall state performance in that subject. The scaling report provides an indicator of the subjects that were generally most difficult (with the lowest grades) as well as those which were easier (with the highest grades). In saying that, it’s important to always choose subjects you enjoy over subjects you think will scale well, because this often changes from year to year!

With all this info under your belt, you should be ready for the trials and tribulations that your senior studies bring. Good luck Year 11s and 12s!

In Conclusion...

The QCE ATAR system can be quite complex, and understanding what's going on can be very daunting for new students and parents. If you ever need some assistance with your ATAR, KIS Academics tutors have a thorough knowledge of the subjects and can assist in understanding curriculum requirements. Our tutors are able to provide materials and teaching on how to prepare for internal and external assessments. Learn about our QCE tutoring and book a free study skills consultation with a KIS Academics tutor here.

Written by KIS Academics Tutor, State Consultant for Queensland (QCE) and Tiktok Marketer, Amelia Mackie. You can view Amelia's profile here and request her as a tutor.


Disclaimer: KIS Academics is not affiliated with the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA). For a more detailed overview of the QCE, please refer to QCAA materials.

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